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Authors: Jack Higgins

Exocet (v5)

BOOK: Exocet (v5)
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EXOCET

Jack Higgins

Open Road Integrated Media
New York

To Denise
For love, understanding and grace

FOREWORD

One of my personal favourite novels. Critics have been kind enough to say that the first chapter, which involves the penetration of Buckingham Palace, is one of the best things of its kind in the modern thriller. The idea for the book came to me during the Falklands conflict when I met arms salesmen at a Jersey cocktail party who had just come in from Paris where, they told me, there was an underground war going on between Argentinean agents trying to buy black market Exocet missiles and members of British Intelligence trying to foil them. I took their word for it and wrote the novel. Some critics thought the idea far-fetched at the time. However, the book was a huge success, mainly because for once I included a strong love affair. In later years, non-fiction books on the conflict have shown that the struggle, as I showed, between Argentinean and British agents did actually take place.

JACK HIGGINS

October 1996

1

As the yellow Telecom truck turned the corner, Grosvenor Place was quiet in the rain. There was not another vehicle in sight, hardly surprising in view of the weather and the fact that it was three o'clock in the morning.

Harvey Jackson reduced speed, his hands slippery with sweat as he gripped the wheel. He wore yellow oilskins: a large man in his late thirties, the dark hair long, framing a face that seldom smiled, eyes bleak above high cheekbones.

The rain was so heavy that the windscreen wipers had difficulty in handling it. He pulled in at the kerb and took a cigarette from a packet in the dashboard. He lit it and wound down the window, looking across the road at the high brick perimeter wall topped with barbed wire that enclosed the gardens at the rear of Buckingham Palace.

He rapped with his knuckles against the partition behind him. A panel opened instantly and Villiers peered out. 'Yes?'

'We're here. Are you ready?'

'Two minutes. Get us into position.'

The panel was closed and Jackson moved into gear and drove away.

The interior of the truck was crowded with the paraphernalia of the telephone engineer and brightly lit by a neon strip light. Tony Villiers braced himself against the workbench as the truck swayed, and carefully blacked his face with camouflage cream, observing the effect in a mirror propped up against a tool box.

He was thirty and of medium height with good shoulders. The eyes were dark and without expression. At some time or other his nose had been broken. His hair was black and tangled and almost shoulder-length. The black jump suit and French paratrooper's boots combined to make him look a thoroughly dangerous man.

And there was a kind of weary bitterness to him as well; the face of someone who had got to know the world and its inhabitants too well and did not care for what he had found.

He pulled a black woollen hood over his head, leaving only his eyes free, and grabbed at the bench as the truck swung across the road, mounted the pavement and pulled in beside the wall.

A Smith & Wesson magnum revolver with a Carswell silencer screwed on to the barrel lay on the bench beside a briefcase. He slipped it into the pouch on his right leg, opened the briefcase and took out a large black and white photo. It had been taken late on the previous afternoon with a telephoto lense and showed the Ambassador's Entrance at the side of Buckingham Palace. There were workmen's ladders against the wall and under the portico. More importantly, two or three windows above the flat roof were partially open.

Villiers replaced the photo and opened the panel again. 'Twenty-five minutes, Harvey. If I'm not back, get the hell out of it.'

'Conversation, I don't need, not on a night like this,' Jackson said. 'Just get it done so we can go home.'

Villiers closed the panel, clambered up on the bench and opened a trap. He pulled himself up on the roof and closed it behind him, crouching in the rain. The wall was only a couple of yards away. He slipped across the barbed wire, grabbed for the branch of a tree, worked his way along it, hand-over-hand, then dropped into the darkness below.

* * *

The police officer on security duties at the Grosvenor Place end of the Palace gardens that morning was thoroughly unhappy with life. Soaked to the skin, wet and miserable, he had paused to shelter under a tree when the Alsatian at his side whined softly.

'What is it, boy?' he demanded, instantly alert, and slipped the lead. 'Seek, boy! Seek!'

The Alsatian departed silently, but Villiers, standing beside a tree twenty or thirty yards away, was already alerted by that first whine and had reached for the aerosol spray he carried in another pouch of his jumpsuit. The dog, specially trained to silent attack, launched itself at him, and his left arm, padded against just such a situation, swung up. The Alsation chewed savagely at the quilted material and Villiers sprayed the aerosol into its face. The animal collapsed without a sound and lay still.

A moment later, the police officer approached cautiously. 'Rex, where are you, boy?'

Villiers' hand rose and fell against the back of the neck in one sharp, practised blow. The police officer groaned and keeled over. Villiers pinioned him, hands behind his back, with his own handcuffs, took the officer's radio receiver from his pocket and slipped it into another pouch of his jumpsuit. Then he started to run across the park through the darkness towards the rear of the Palace.

* * *

Harvey Jackson got out of the truck and opened the door. He reached inside, found a couple of grappling hooks, then bent down over the telephone manhole at his feet and removed it. From the truck he took an inspection lamp on a long lead which he lowered into the darkness, a red warning sign reading
DANGER, MEN AT WORK,
some canvas screens and an awning. He dropped into the manhole, opened one of the inspection boxes, revealing a bewildering array of multi-coloured leads and switches, and sat back and waited.

Perhaps five minutes later, there was the sound of a car and he stood up and peered over the edge as a police patrol car pulled in at the kerb. The driver leaned out, a grin on his face.

'What a way to earn a living. Serves you right for joining.'

'You, too,' Jackson said.

'Hope you're getting double time, this hour of the bloody morning.'

'That'll be the day.'

The policeman grinned again. 'Watch yourself. If this rain keeps up you'll be swimming in there by breakfast time.'

He drove away and jackson lit a cigarette and sat down again, whistling softly to himself, wondering how Villiers was getting on.

* * *

Villiers, who had found the workmen's ladders still available under the portico, had reached the flat roof over the Ambassador's Entrance with no difficulty. Two of the windows shown on the photograph were still partially open. He worked his way along a ledge, raised the nearest one and slid over the window sill into a small office. He opened the door cautiously and slipped out into a dark corridor.

The Royal Apartments were on the other side of the palace. Completely familiar with the layout from his study of the plans supplied to him, he now moved with considerable rapidity through a maze of corridors, all deserted as he had expected at that time of the morning. Some five minutes later he stood at the end of the corridor leading to the private quarters.

The Queen's apartment was only a few yards away - a dining room leading into a sitting room, the bedroom beyond, he knew that. Further on, around another corner, was a room where the corgis slept. In the page's vestibule opposite, a police constable sat reading a paperback book.

Villiers observed him carefully for a moment, then retreated down the corridor and took out the radio transceiver he had taken from the policeman in the park. He pressed the channel four button and waited.

There was a slight crackle. A voice said, 'Jones here.'

Villiers replied in a soft voice, 'Security office. The picture gallery alarm seems to be playing up again. We're getting an intermittent signal. Give it a quick check, will you?'

'Okay,' Jones said.

Villiers moved to the corner again and peered round in time to see the police constable moving away along the corridor in the other direction. He turned at the end and disappeared. Villiers moved instantly to the door of the Queen's apartment. He paused for a moment, took a deep breath and opened it.

* * *

Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth the Second, was seated by the fire in her comfortable sitting room reading a book. In spite of the early hour, she was perfectly groomed and wore a pale blue twin-set and tweed skirt, pearls at her throat. A slight creaking from the door caused her to raise her head. It opened and Villiers stepped into the room, closing the door behind him.

He looked extremely menacing in the black jumpsuit and hood, only the eyes showing. There was a silence for a moment and then he reached up and pulled the hood over his head.

'Ah, Major Villiers,' the Queen said. 'Was it difficult?'

'I'm afraid not, ma'am.'

The Queen frowned. 'I see. Well, we'd better get on with it. You are on limited time, I presume?'

'Very, ma'am'

She reached for a newspaper and held it up. 'Last night's
Standard.
Will that do?'

'I think, so, ma'am.'

Villiers took a folding Polaroid camera from one of the pouches in his jumpsuit, moved close and dropped to one knee. The queen raised the newspaper, there was a flash and he took the picture, a soft whirring as it was discharged from the camera. He moved to the fire and held the photo to the warmth. Her face started to appear.

'Excellent, ma'am.' He held it out to her.

'Good, then you'd better be off. Wouldn't do for them to catch you now. That really would spoil everything.'

Villiers pulled the hood back over his head and gave her a slight bow. The door clicked behind him and he was gone. The Queen sat there for a while, thinking about it, debating whether to go to bed. Rain drummed against the window. She shivered, picked up the book and returned to her reading.

* * *

Ten minutes later, Tony Villiers came over the wall like a black wraith and landed on the roof of the Telecom truck.

'Let's move it, Harvey,' he whispered, as he opened the trapdoor and dropped down on to the bench.

Jackson was out of the manhole in an instant, opened the door, passed in the canvas screens, the warning sign and the lamp and closed the door again. Villiers heard the manhole clang into place, footsteps hurry round to the cab. He pulled off his hood, opened a jar of theatrical cleansing cream and started on his face. A moment later, they drove away.

* * *

In 1972, the problem of international terrorism having reached epidemic proportions, the Director General of D15, the British Secret Intelligence Service, authorised the setting up within the organisation of a section known as Group Four which had powers held directly from the Prime Minister, to co-ordinate the handling of all cases of terrorism, subversion and the like.

Brigadier Charles Ferguson had been placed in charge, still was, a large, kindly-looking man whose crumpled suits always seemed a size too large. The Guards tie was the only military aspect to him. The untidy grey hair, the double chin, combined to give him the appearance of some minor professor.

Just now, he wore a greatcoat of the type favoured by officers of the Household Brigade, the collar turned up against the early morning cold. The Bentley was parked off Eaton Square, not too far from the Palace, and the only other occupant was the driver, Harry Fox, a slim, elegant man of twenty-nine who until three years previously had been an acting captain in the Blues and Royals. The neat leather glove he wore on the left hand concealed the fact that he had lost the original in a bomb explosion during a tour of duty in Belfast.

He poured tea from a Thermos flask into plastic cups and handed Ferguson one. 'I wonder how he's getting on?'

'Our Tony? Oh, with his usual appallingly ruthless efficiency. Never lets anything get in his way, you see. Comes of having been head of his house at Eton.'

'Nevertheless, sir, if he's caught, it will raise one hell of a stink and it won't do the SAS image much good either.'

'You worry too much, Harry,' Ferguson said. 'Comes of having picked up the wrong briefcase over there. Things could be worse.' He nodded across the square to a yellow Telecom truck parked beside an open manhole, canvas screen around it. Two men in yellow oilskins worked in the rain. 'Just look at those two poor sods. What a way to earn your crust. Down a hole at this ungodly hour in the morning in the pouring rain.'

A dark Ford Granada saloon passed them, one man at the wheel, another at the rear. It pulled in at the kerb and a bulky man in a dark raincoat and trilby hat came towards them, opened the rear door and got in.

'Ah, Superintendent,' Ferguson said. 'Harry, this is Detective Chief Superintendent Carver of Special Branch, delegated by the powers-that-be at Scotland Yard to be official observer this morning. You should beware, Superintendent.' Ferguson filled another plastic cup with tea and offered it to him. 'In the old days, messengers who brought bad news were usually executed.'

'Balls,' Carver said amiably. 'He doesn't stand a chance, your man, and you know it. How did he intend to try and get in anyway?'

'I haven't the slightest idea,' Ferguson told him. 'I never query methods, Superintendent, only results.'

'Just a minute, sir,' Fox said. 'I think we've got company.'

The two telephone engineers who had been working in the manhole at the far side of the square had got out and were walking towards them, oilskins streaming with rain. Fox opened the glove compartment and took out a Walther PPK.

Ferguson said, 'How enterprising of them,' and wound down the window. 'Good morning, Tony. Morning, Sergeant Major.'

'Sir,' Jackson said, bringing his heels together automatically.

Villiers leaned down and passed in the polaroid photo of the Queen. 'Anything else, sir?' he asked.

Ferguson examined the photo without a word, then passed it to the Superintendent. Carver sat up straight. 'Good God!'

BOOK: Exocet (v5)
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